Shaper Review: J. and John Richardson of Surfboards Makaha
On the West side of Oahu, J. Richardson has been making surfboards since he was 16. He started making boards because he needed something to ride the waves and he didn’t want to pay others to make boards for him. He never thought it would be anything more than making boards for his own quiver. But by 1970, J was making boards for a living.
J now owns and operates Surfboards Makaha with his son John Richardson. I went out to their place, over by the famous surf spot Makaha, and had a chat with J and John. They have an awesome setup. Their house is lifted, so it is on the second floor. Underneath the house, on the first floor, is their workplace. Across the street is the ocean and less than a half mile west is Makaha.
Me: Thanks for taking some time to chat with me guys.
J: No problem.
Me: So, J. the basic question first. How did you become a shaper?
J: Ah man. I started to shape boards when I was 16 because I didn’t have money to buy new boards. Remember, when I talk about making boards they weren’t what you see in the lineup today. These were big boards. I made them for myself and then buddies wanted them and I just went with that. When I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, my wife told me to do something I loved and I was making a good amount of boards for friends and figured I could do it for a living. So here I am today. Still making boards.
Me: So you’ve seen quite a change in board design.
J: For sure. I’ve seen the changes in board design. I even remember some weird experimenting we used to do. Making weird tails and shit, stuff that looked spaceship like and didn’t really work. In the 80s I was making a lot of performance longboards for guys.
John: And he always made shortboards for me. When I was riding for T&C they also hired my dad and he was making boards for all the T&C guys. He used to make boards for Sunny and all those guys.
J: Yeah. I used to do a lot of boards for T&C. Those were the days when I was making a lot of shorter boards. Well, they were definitely bigger than a shortboard today, but you get what I mean.
Me: So you can pretty much make any kind of board?
J: Yeah. I’ve made longboards, shortboards, fishes, Pipe boards, Sunset guns, Makaha guns, etc. etc. I make them all. I even make SUP boards. That’s actually our big thing right now.
Me: Yeah, I was going to ask you how you got into making SUP boards.
J: When they first came out I hated them. I was completely against them actually. People would ask me to make them and I wouldn’t. Frankly I just didn’t want to make big ass boards. It took me 3-4 years to start to warm up to them. Now I make them all the time. As a shaper you have to roll with the times. If I didn’t I would still be shaping big ol logs, completely by hand and no one would buy them and I would be broke. SUP boards are the big craze right now and I have to make what the people want. And after I got over hating SUP boards and tried them out, they are a lot of fun. John and I have created some “top secret shit” in our glassing process of SUP boards. It makes them lighter and stronger than other boards.
Me: I guess I’ll have to try one someday. So tell me how and why you bought the machine?
J: I’ve been making boards for 40+ years. Like I said earlier, all kinds of boards. And it is important to go with the changes. Well, the big change over the last couple years is machined shaped blanks. They started popping boards out in China, which are pieces of shit, and shapers started feeling the pressure to make more boards and quicker. Not an easy task when you are shaping by hand. Back in the day all boards were glossed and polished and had glass on fins. Boards now are easier, but still take time. So all us shapers got put in a place where if we wanted to be able to compete with China and produce boards, you needed a machine.
Me: How much are they?
J: $80,000+. Not a small investment. And don’t think you can just buy a machine and make boards. You have to know how to shape a board to use the machine. If you can’t make a board by hand, you are going to fail when you use the machine. And although they come out quite finished, you still have to put some loving work into the board. And still glass it too obviously. So John and I decided to get an Aku Shaper (name of machine) and its been great. Especially with the big ass SUP boards we are always making.
Me: Tell me a bit about that big ol carbon fiber board out front.
J: That is a racing SUP board John and I recently made. We made it from carbon fiber so it is super light and durable. This is the first one we have made and the first of its kind. We took it out off Hawaii Kai the other day and it works great. In the future they won’t be black because it just sucks up too much sun and can damage it in the long run. We’ll paint the newer ones.
Me: Well thanks guys. When I have the urge to actually try SUP I’ll come by.
It was awesome to go out to Makaha and talk with J, a man who has seen quite the change in surfing and surfing equipment over the last 40+ years. Him and his son John really have a cool thing going. The kind of thing most of us would consider a dream job. You live above your office. Your office is a shaping bay where you just shape boards all day. You work with your son. You walk across the street, to the sea, and surf the spot off to the right that never really has anyone on it and a couple hundred yards away is Makaha. Not a bad lifestyle at all. Make sure you check them out at www.surfboardsmakaha.com.
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